58 Processions, Duncan Whitley and James Wyness

The Crypt of St Pancras Church, Euston, London.
August 2008.

In April 2007 and March 2008 Duncan Whitley and James Wyness travelled to Seville to carry out field work, documenting the celebrations of ‘Semana Santa’ (Holy Week).

Over the course of Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday, 58 Sevillian brotherhoods make penitential journeys through the streets of Seville, often accompanied by marching bands and guided throughout by aural cues, both mechanical and vocal. For the audience on the streets, anticipation and emotional fulfilment centres on the arrival of the ‘pasos’ – floats bearing life size sculptures of Christ, the Virgin and other figures from the Passion.

During the course of Semana Santa 2007 and 2008 the artists captured a series of field recordings examining the sonic language of the processions. The recordings document the syntactical use of sound integral to the events, as well as a wealth of incidental detail and location ambience. Ultimately, this formal investigation reveals a complex matrix of acoustic communication and emotional intensity.

Whitley and Wyness’ work renders this material in physical space, creating overlapping fields of audition. The spatialisation of the recordings brings alive the wealth of detail within the recorded sounds themselves, inviting the listener to navigate the unfolding narrative.

This site-specific installation at the Crypt plays on the concept of the acousmatic. Coined by the early pioneers of Musique Concrete, the term acousmatic was adopted to describe sound which is heard without the source being seen. The term is associated with Pythagoras who, it is said, taught from behind a veil to encourage his listeners to concentrate on the word rather than the speaker. Our human nature tends to encourage us to discover the identity (and location) of a sound. By concealing the actual source of the sound (the speakers) behind curtains, the artists construct an arena for creative, focused and even playful listening.

The exhibition was opened by a special event in the crypt featuring the premiere of a new work, in which a selection of Tomas Luis de Victoria’s ‘Tenebrae Responsories’, were sung live by the Londinium choir, and interleaved with a selection of pieces from the installation.